ST. PAUL, Minn. — After a long debate between Democrats and Republicans, an overhaul in the licensure of teachers in Minnesota may finally go through.
The issue became serious last March when the Minnesota Office of the Legislative Auditor deemed the licensure system to be broken. In the report, the auditor found that the problems in the system stemmed mostly from the fact that the process is directed by two separate state agencies, the Board of Teaching (BOT) and the Minnesota Department of Education (MDE).
The BOT establishes the requirements for teacher licensure and the MDE reviews license applications and issues the teaching licenses.
This dual system and the statutes related to this system make the process both confusing for the teachers and difficult to hold BOT or MDE accountable for specific issues. For instance, the audit found multiple instances where the same language within the statute was used to reference different types of teacher licenses.
Other problems with the licensure laws include exceptions to requirements which create significant loopholes, making the laws essentially meaningless standards. Tricky language also means that it is difficult to inform a licensing candidate the specific reason for the denial of a license.
The auditor made multiple recommendations to the legislature on how to improve the laws and process surrounding teacher licensing.
For one, the process should be consolidated into one agency rather than being run by two separate agencies, or failing this, clarify the responsibilities of each agency in the wording of existing laws.
The recommendation also stated that the system should be reformed to be more efficient and transparent, including informing those denied licenses to the specific deficiencies within their application and greater clarity when it comes to the requirements of acquiring a teaching license.
Finally, the auditors pointed out that a tiered-licensure system could address many of these problems in terms of consistency, efficiency, and transparency.
Currently, bills have cleared both the Minnesota Senate and House, though discrepancies exist between them. Both the bills, however, have adopted the tiered-licensure system recommended by the auditors.
Minnesota Sen. Eric Pratt (R-Prior Lake) and Rep. Sondra Erickson (R-Princeton) authored the respective bills and while they have received bipartisan support some Democratic lawmakers and State Education Commissioner, Brenda Cassellius remain skeptical. Particular concern surrounds the standards for the lower tiered positions and that these standards will not provide as qualified teachers.
Cassellius explained to the legislature that “As we balance the current problem of teacher supply, we don’t want to rush to decisions that down the road might lessen the quality of the teachers who are in front of our kids.”
Sen. Pratt rejects this notion, stating in an interview with the Pioneer Press that “If you have a teacher in the classroom [who’s] not doing the job, you are going to hear about it from parents.”
Disagreement also arises in terms of timing. Lawmakers want these changes to take place immediately, in order to overcome the deficiencies in the system that are already apparent. State officials on the other hand want allow more time for the changes to be implemented. In an interview with the Pioneer Press, Erin Doan, Executive Director of the state Board of Teaching, said; “We want to make sure we are not pushing some of these things forward in a way that makes it tougher for schools or for teachers themselves.”
Pratt stated, however, that “This is something we’ve got to get done this session.”